Courage Under Fire (1996) Poster

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A great Movie, Overlooked by too many
mjw230518 January 2005
This movie has 2 stories that that run side by side, depicting the same image of war from different perspectives.

Denzel's story is one of sadness and guilt over the death of a friend during the Gulf war, a friend that he himself killed in a 'Friendly Fire' incident, during the confusion of battle. His country won't let him speak, and they shower him with medals; this only adds to the pain that begins to tear him apart.

Denzel's Character is given an assignment to determine whether a female helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) deserves the medal of honour.

Meg's story, played out in flashbacks, is about a helicopter pilot and her crew saving a handful of soldiers, from the Iraqi onslaught. She is the first female to be considered for the medal of honour, and the question is, does she deserve what the American people would so love too see her receive.

Denzel, determined to get this one right, collects evidence and testimony from Ryans crew and the men that were saved. The problem is, Denzel's superiors want this medal awarded, but the simple truth is difficult to unveil. Every shred of evidence leads to more and more uncertainty as to whether this medal should be awarded.

Truly compelling direction and very special character portrayal make this an extremely enjoyable, very dramatic movie.

If you've over looked it, then give it a try. I think you'll be glad you did.

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Worth Watching
rmax30482327 July 2003
The story is a simple one. Washington is a Lt. Colonel responsible for some accidental deaths during a tank battle in the Gulf War. The experience leaves him feeling pretty lousy. He neglects his family and begins drinking. He's assigned to investigate the suitability of Meg Ryan as a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. She was flying a medevac helicopter to a crash site when her aircraft was shot down by small arms fire and, apparently, she stayed behind voluntarily and ordered her crew to save themselves while she covered them. Washington interviews the crew members and gets different stories. In one story Ryan behaves heroically as described. In a second, she is a coward and collapses under fire. In yet a third, the truth emerges. Yeah, it's Rashomon, but not as original or subtle.

Still it's pretty good. And, Gott sei dank, it is not a story in which a woman proves herself as a good as a man, despite the fact that she is a member of the weaker sex. (What condescension.) Meg Ryan is a capable and courageous officer who happens to be a woman. Her sex is important to the politicians who are positively drooling over the prospect of awarding her the decoration, but isn't really important to the narrative.

The performances are better than I'd expected. Everyone, in fact, is quite good in their different ways. Matt Damon, in particular, gives a sensitive performance as a guilt-ridden medic, and looks the part, somewhat ascetic, his facial features askew with uncertainty. Meg Ryan doesn't have a chance to do more than shout orders with a Texas accent but she registers pain and determination well. Lou Diamond Phillips is perhaps the least articulated character, but that may be the fault of the role as written, which is fairly complex but a little obvious. Denzel Washington is the central figure. He's good as carrying that burden of guilt left over from his battlefield mistake but isn't too convincing as a drunk. In the end, he relieves himself of some of that torture by visiting the parents of one of the men he had killed and confessing his part in the incident. The first few times I saw this I kept thinking what some other actors would have done with this scene, but the last time I found his incarnate remorse rather moving.

There is one scene delicately shot, an uneasy exchange between the lying Damon and the perceptive Washington that's beautifully staged and acted, and another memorable first encounter between Washington and Phillips, in which both actors probe the edges of insubordination. Michael Dolan stands out in a featured bit part as a hospital orderly.

The battle scenes are well done, although a little confusing, as I'm sure they would have been at the time. Some generic conventions are adhered to. Four of our guys can slaughter dozens of them. The enemy runs headlong into a hail of bullets. But there are some interesting twists given to the situation. The Iraqis on the other side of the hill can be heard laughing at our boys (and our woman). And the ending is revisionist, but I won't go into it. Justice outs, let's say that.

It's a worthwhile watch for any number of reasons. Craftsmanlike if not poetic.
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Profound, intelligent, and moving; one of Zwick's best...
varundelpiero6 November 2008
Edward Zwick's second war-based movie (following the successful GLORY) is almost as good as his first, and every bit as watchable. I have particularly liked stories that use different viewpoints to tell the same story (hence creating different versions of the same story). These types of movies stemmed no doubt from Akira Kurosawa's epic RASHOMON, and while films that use this strategy rarely live up to Kurosawa's original in terms of intelligence and portrayal (the most recent being the slightly-better-than-mediocre VANTAGE POINT), COURAGE UNDER FIRE is still a rewarding Motion Picture.

Denzel Washington is near his brilliant best as the troubled Lieutenant Colonel on the verge of alcoholism due in part to his overwhelming feelings of guilt following a military procedure gone wrong. His depression and curiosity fuel his determination to get to the bottom of the 'mystery' even if it puts him out of favour with his Commanding Officers. Meg Ryan is equally superb, and as each re-telling of the story demands her to take on a different personality (similar to the female lead in RASHOMON), she manages to pull each one off effectively. Matt Damon puts in a reliable shift, even losing upward of 20 pounds to take on the role. For me, the biggest surprise is Lou Diamond Phillips who is actually quite watchable, and does not overact, as is his tendency.

Zwick's COURAGE UNDER FIRE is an examination of war from a less visceral point of view, and will stay with the viewer long after watching the movie. It deeply delves into themes of responsibility, guilt, and truth in an overall compelling Motion Picture. The script is effective and the buildup to the somewhat sentimental ending is quite commendable.

8/10. 3.5 stars (out of 4). Highly recommended. Should enter my Top 200 at around #183.
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Denzel Washington At His Best
degracia22 October 2000
"Courage Under Fire" is perhaps the best illustration of how flexible and adaptive actors like Denzel Washington are. What makes "Courage Under Fire" impressive is not so much its plot or storyline (which is somewhat inconsistent), but its portrayal of a lone officer torn between personal conscience and duty. Denzel's overweight build and alcoholic demeanor create the highly credible image of a man barely attached to his life. Basically the story of a budding Army officer re-assigned to administrative duties following a Desert Storm friendly fire incident, "Courage Under Fire" submerges the viewer into pure emotional hell as it progresses. The stunning emotional catharisis portrayed at the film's end is incredibly dramatic and almost entirely unmatched. Anyone who has ever been under the extreme pressures of stress or suffered cognitive dissonance following a bad judgement will definitely connect with this film. A great psychological thriller and a tour-de-force drama. Definitely one of the best films...if only it would be released on DVD!!
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The Method
UACW8 March 2000
America's sweetheart as a helicopter pilot? Most critics say she does an excellent job, but that's not what makes this movie so momentous. Neither is it the excellent performance by Denzel Washington, who had been expected by many to win an Oscar nomination for it. Nor is it the over the top performance of Matt Damon, nor is it the excellent contributions by any of the others in the cast. It's the way the story is told: throughout the movie you see the same sequence, over and over again, and each time you understand what is happening just a little bit more, until at the very end the import of it all hits you like a locomotive. It's a unique brand of story telling, and eminently successful.
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A DESERT STORM-era update of "Rashomon"
philoso421 February 2005
A DESERT STORM veteran, Lt Col Nat Serling (played by Denzel Washington), is assigned the task of recommending whether or not to award the first (posthumous) combat Medal of Honor to a woman, Capt Karen Walden (played by Meg Ryan). In investigating the inconsistent mission accounts of Walden's surviving crew, Serling constantly flashes back to his own searing DESERT STORM experience and the Army's subsequent attempts to whitewash the incident, resolving that his investigation will not suffer the same fate. As Serling tries to rectify the competing competing accounts it becomes clear that director Edward Zwick has crafted a contemporary "Rashomon," complete with reminders that the truth is always subjective and our accounts of it typically affected by self-interest.
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bobafett-1626 April 1999
Courage Under Fire is a movie that will stay with me for a while. Denzel Washington continues to be one of the finest actors today and proves it in this movie. The premise was interesting and was entertaining. I was disappointed with Meg Ryan's performance. I usually like her but she got annoying with her constant shouting. Yet that didn't keep the movie down. It was extremely dramatic and my two favorite scenes are the scene with Lou Diamond Phillips in the car and when it shows what really happened. A great film and terrific acting by Denzel Washington.
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This movie helps heals me
sam935057 January 2012
I don't care about the petty "goofs" or parts of the story that other people point out- this movie means a lot to me as a disabled veteran with PTSD. This movie is about many things, but to me, the story is about how Col Sterling is trying to manage his survivor guilt and PTSD from his incident on one hand, and deal with his task to validate the medal for his General, his wife, his kids, etc. on the other. He resorts to booze (like we all do) to try to cope. That's what this movie is really about: how one guy is trying to come to grips with PTSD, which I can tell you first-hand is a challenge that I face every minute of everyday. And seeing this movie helps heal me. It reminds me that I too lost a promising career in the Navy, lost my marriage, lost my kids, and lost myself in the abyss of PTSD and alcoholism before I got help. That's the only negative I have on this movie- we don't see if Col Sterling got help. Otherwise, this movie has helped heal me in ways that no other movie I've ever seen has.
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Makes You Think
johnny-burgundy26 October 2017
Courage Under Fire (1996) This is a war film about an Army officer, plagued about a deadly mistake he made, who investigates a female soldier's worthiness for the Medal of Honor. It stars Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. The film received mostly positive reviews and earned a generally favorable response. The investigation turns up some disparities that requires our lead character to not only question the female soldier's worthiness, but also his own. It examines the truth the public gets vs. the actual truth. This is a quality film that allows its audience, not only to figure out what really took place, but also whether or not it should come out at all.
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Not As Bad As It Could Have Been
Theo Robertson8 August 2004
After suffering a tragic incident during the 1991 gulf war Colonel Serling is asked to look into the case of Captain Walden a female helicopter pilot nominated for America`s highest decoration The Medal Of Honor

COURAGE UNDER FIRE is directed by Ed Zwick a director who tries so hard to direct an epic movie that he loses all focus for narrative . GLORY suffered from this to a certain extent as did his later movie THE SIEGE . LEGENDS OF THE FALL on the other hand collapsed under its own weight of sub stories that it left this viewer wondering what on earth was the main story . COURAGE UNDER FIRE could have suffered the same fate and I was suspicous as to where the story might have been heading . A tragic friendly fire incident features as does the traumatic and guilt ridden aftermath , a nosey journalist appears , then the story switches to the helicopter heroine . Should females serve on the front line ? Will she get the honour simply because she`s a woman ? With so many potential storylines for the film to follow the movie then decides to become centered around what actually happened to Captain Walden . I`m actually glad it became a simple " Whodunnit " plot because LEGENDS OF THE FALL SET IN THE DESERT isn`t my idea of a good movie

There`s only two things director Zwick should be criticised for , in fact one of them isn`t even his fault and that is the battle scene where the Iraqis surround the crashed helicopter , having watched BLACK HAWK DOWN several times I came to the conclusion the most awesome part of that movie is where the two Delta snipers Shughart and Gordon bravely but vainly try to stem the Somali hordes closing in on the Durrant crash site . Ironically this incident inspired the producers to make COURAGE UNDER FIRE but the battle scenes are very much weaker in comparison to Scott`s later movie despite being very similar , but let me repeat I saw COURAGE UNDER FIRE after seeing BLACK HAWK DOWN and most war movies would pale beside Ridley Scott`s action masterwork . The one thing Zwick should be blamed for is casting Meg Ryan . On screen the character of Walden is described as " Butch " and whatever you want to say about Meg Ryan " butch " is not an accurate adjective . Lyndie England now she is butch ...

As for the other aspects of the movie it`s cast well enough . Denzil Washington plays his usual good guy very well while a then fairly unknown Matt Damon is almost unrecognisable . Perhaps the most refreshing thing about COURAGE UNDER FIRE is that it`s apolitical which makes a nice change from Vietnam where we get polemical movies like THE GREEN BERETS and WE WERE SOLDIERS on one hand and PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW on the other . Wait till Hollywood starts making movies about Gulf War 2 , boy are we going to be getting some opinions on that war
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For the kind of film it is, it's not bad
Pookyiscute13 February 2006
At the beginning of the film, someone makes a reference to Meg Ryan's character as being "butch". I immediately thought, "Yeah right. Meg Ryan, butch?" Well, I was actually quite surprised with her performance, given the fact that she is a light romantic screen actress. Plus, she was once considered one of America's sweethearts, so it's hard to picture her in a role like this.

Denzel Washington, a Colonol in the Army, is investigating the death of an American soldier who died in the field, during the Iraqi war. Whether she deserves the medal of honor, which she has been nominated for, is the reason for the investigation. There are surviving members of her crew, and each one has a different version of the story, and what really happened the morning of her death.

The first twenty minutes of the film are slow, and a bit hard to pay attention to (or maybe that's just me and military movies), but once you get into the story, it picks up quite a bit, and becomes very interesting and worth the watch. I will probably never see this movie again, but it was entertaining enough that I was able to sit through the whole thing without being frustrated from boredom.

Denzel Washington was good, but nothing special. I suppose it might have been his character, given the fact that it was a pretty bland role. Lou Diamond Phillipes was probably the best actor in the whole film, and blew me away with his performance. I'm surprised he hasn't done as much since this film came out.

Again, Meg Ryan was good in this, but I wouldn't have chosen her for this part. I would have gone with someone a little more masculine to fill her character's shoes, perhaps someone like Jodie Foster.

It was a good drama, and if you want to see a really young and good looking Matt Damon, this is your chance. Other than that though, it's not worth that much. It's better than most action movies, but then again, there's not really that much action as there is story telling, which I enjoyed the most out of the whole film.
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Objective unclear
paul2001sw-15 August 2004
Soldiers do terrible things (in all senses of that word), nominally in the name of all of us. If one soldier, who has not committed any atrocities, dies in combat but is given a technically undeserved honour, does it really matter? In Edward Zwick's curious film, 'Courage Under Fire', we have to believe it does, as Denzel Washington's Colonel investigates whether an award should be given to Meg Ryan's deceased pilot after the first Gulf war. It's all rather dull, and although he eventually (and predictably) unearths a shocking truth, there's little in his early inquiries to suggest such an outcome. The plot justification for the importance Washington's character gives to his enquiry is meant to be personal, he himself has had a tough war and is now teetering on the brink of alcoholism, though this itself is odd as while the rest of the cast all notice this constantly, we virtually never see him drunk (or indeed, taking more than a single drink at a sitting). The incident he is investigating is also peculiar, Ryan's character commands no natural authority but even then the reaction of her troops seems strange. Another contradiction is the way the film appears to want to honour the military, beginning with textbook action scenes and ending with sentimental reverence, in spite of the fact that the soldiers we see in action are all, frankly, pretty bad at their jobs. But a conspiracy thriller needs a bad guy, so top brass is attacked, for the "crime" of wanting to make good PR out of an apparently heroic story, while the troops on the ground are applauded for their incompetence and forgiven their errors. It all makes for a film with a very funny shape, which shows the failings of soldiers but passes up the opportunity to comment on the dehumanising nature of war in favour of commenting on the dehumanising nature of sitting in an office. Far less profound than it thinks.
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An average 'he said, she said' drama that has a better list of names involved than it deserved
bob the moo23 August 2004
Nat Serling returns from the Gulf war having been involved in a friendly fire incident. Even though he is cleared, he still carries the guilt but is looked after by the army and helped into a comfortable job in the Pentagon. He is assigned to assess the nomination of Captain Karen Walden for the medal of honour – an seemingly open and shut case that everyone wants to be passed for the public relations opportunity of awarding a woman captain the posthumous medal. However, when Serling starts to investigate he finds some minor differences in the stories and the more he pushes the survivors the more the story starts to fall apart. Despite the pressure from his superiors, Serling continues to dig for the truth.

Looking back at this film now it is perhaps a little frustrating how little it seems to critically analysis the issues behind war and politics and instead just plays it as a straight thriller with the Gulf only serving as a background and not as subtext. With this aspect put to one side the film just about manages to work as a thriller but not a particularly good one. The plot is very much 'he said, she said' stuff and it is not as dramatic as it would like to think it is. The film tries to inject pace into it with a series of extreme actions by the characters and the excitement of the battle sequences but really it doesn't amount to a terrible lot. The subplot over Serling's incident never really feels relevant and was either tacked on or badly handled to the point that it seemed tacked on. Either way the plot is not as involving as it really should have been – it does OK enough to make it worth watching once but it's no great shakes.

The cast is impressive though and contains many stars as well as faces that have become a lot more famous since this. Washington is troubled and interesting, even if he has to occasionally switch on the worry on request. He is a good leading man and has good presence; his delivery goes part of the way to helping inject a bit of urgency into some of the scenes in this rather talky film. Ryan was a strange choice but I suppose she was desperate to have something to show her range. While it is easy to dismiss her performance, she is OK but it would have been a lot better if her performance had changed more that it did between the few accounts – but I guess her range is not as wide as she would like to think it is. Outside of these two the main players are those in Walden's crew; Damon looks very young and does OK, Phillips is physically impressive but his character is difficult to totally swallow and Gilliam is a lot more understated than he was in Oz. The rest of the cast is populated by a large number of well-known faces including Taylor, Ivanek, Pinchot, Astin, Glenn, Thomas, McGill, Hall and Jenkins. Few of them have anything to do but their presence was rarely a distraction to me although I can imagine some viewers might be put off by the 'where do I know him from' factor.

Overall this is an average drama that is talky and relies on the actors to try and inject into a plot that is really just about the different characters trying to cover their own backs. The cast are mostly good but Ryan's reach exceeds her grasp and they are mostly let down by average material. Worth a watch once for what it is but I can't imagine too many viewers will be returning for a second look.
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Fairly lumpen melodramatic fare
ginger_sonny3 August 2004
A military investigation into the supposedly heroic death of a woman in the Gulf War unearths a Rashoman-style rack of conflicting stories. Billed as the movie that made you take Ryan seriously, this is fairly lumpen melodramatic fare, more notable for its cameo turns by the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips and a fresh-faced Matt Damon than for its heavy-billed leads. Washington digs the dirt (both personal and professional) with his usual assuredness, but Ryan never really gets beyond looking like, well, like Meg Ryan really, having little more than a bad hair day in the midst of all the bullets and the sand. An average film drama, saved by the enjoyable cameo appearances of Phillips and Damon.
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Stunning performances, great direction, fine story line
Ankhoryt13 March 2003
Whoa! Some of these reviewers bring so much of gender politics and national politics to their reviews, the movie itself is lost. I wasn't going to add a comment until I found the one that said, "We didn't know what this movie was about, so it's a bad movie; by the way, we wore earplugs all through it."

Come on, folks, get the cotton out and listen up. Matt Damon's ability and willingness to lose forty or fifty pounds in the course of his role is certainly above and beyond the usual call of duty for a supporting actor. His expert embodiment of the fragility and shame of his character foreshadowed his leading-man career to come. Denzel Washington and Lou Diamond Phillips merit the kind words other reviewers have left here, and certainly Meg Ryan deserves none of the harsh ones.

Her performance was perfect, whether portraying the gutsy leader recalled by some narrators or the over-estrogened mess detailed by her bitter gunner. Someone here complained she was "too pretty" -- please! Pretty happens, even in the military. Others here complained her voice was too high, no, too low, no... perhaps it's their expectations of female soldiers that are too high, too low, too wedded to or too opposed to gender stereotypes.

One of the European reviewers here complained that this film was too pro-American and dehumanized the Iraqis. I thought the director was showing that it is a universal tactic to assure yourself of your righteousness by dehumanizing and misrepresenting "the enemy," whether it is the opposing force or a captain you despise for her power over you. Remember, the film begins with a scene showing that the forces are so similar that they are literally indistinguishable -- though that point may not have been intentional on the director's part. Certainly the point is lost as the film goes on to lionize every American life lost while placing only target value on the deaths of opposing soldiers.

This was a war movie that acknowledged cowardice as well as courage, shame as well as gallantry, deadly mistakes as well as brilliant tactics, all in the same arena and sometimes all in the same individual. One movie can only carry so much freight, and perhaps asking every war movie to highlight the pointlessness of war and the excesses of nationalism is asking too much.

Aside from all that, the filmography and special effects were astonishing, both in the war shots (the napalm drop, the tank lines, the helicopters in the cliffs) and in the most dramatic domestic death scene.

This was an excellent movie, with stunning performances, great direction, and a fine story line. But if you're wearing earplugs or blinders, you're going to miss it.
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Let's be realistic
Ziya9013 December 2009
The movie has some interesting material, these are the plot and Meg Ryan. Why Meg Ryan? Because as you know she is the actress of romantic comedies, so to see Meg Ryan in such a thriller is surprising, even if there are a few similar examples more in her filmography. However, her character is the key character of the movie and she is a soldier. Why the plot is interesting? Because it is based on a female soldier which is a very rare thing. That's all. The direction is mediocre, the movie is not stylish at all, I don't know who cares this but. Because, it is seen that the movie is liked and nobody cares about the direction or lack of energy in acting. Denzel Washington cannot save the movie, you know, sometimes, the movie is mediocre, but you watch it for the actors's sake, but this is an exception. In other words, even great Denzel Washington is completely forgettable in this movie. It is extremely strange that according to some, one of his bests. By the way, this is not an action movie at all, I don't count one or two flashbacks which show the key event. To me, Basic can be called as the new version of Courage Under Fire. Basic was not a real good movie, but if you ask me better than this one and the ending was a bit shocking that makes it more worthy. Lastly, Courage Under Fire is not a popcorn movie (entertainment), because story is in the foreground by far, not action, not suspense, not direction. I highly recommend you, In the Valley of Elah, a great movie.
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A Powerful Film
consortpinguin28 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***** Warning **** Contains spoilers ****

Anyone interest in Desert Storm should see "Courage Under Fire." It is a powerful story with great performances by the whole cast. Denzel Washington really deserved an Oscar for this role, so different than the other major roles he's played such as Malcolm X. What makes the story so compelling is that you see that war is not just a string of heroics, but is fraught with problems and mistakes as in any other occupation. But in war, mistakes can cost lives. We see the loyalty and courage shown by our troops as well as their human failures.

Lt. Col. Serling (Washington), back at the Pentagon after commanding a tank division in the Gulf War, is assigned to investigate whether Capt. Karen Walden, a rescue helicopter pilot killed in action (Meg Ryan) deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor. Serling is deeply troubled by his mistake which caused the death of an old friend. When an unidentified tank appeared in the formation, Serling had to make a split-second decision whether or not to fire. He does, and unfortunately it turns out to be one of ours. His depression affects his whole life, including his family, and he notices that he is drinking too much. His boss, General Hershberg, with whom he also served in Vietnam, tries his best to help Serling get over it.

As Serling interviews the soldiers who flew with Captain Walden, her story is shown in a series of flashbacks. We soon learn that there are major inconsistencies in the stories he hears, some of which imply she was incompetent. Not content to do a superficial job, Serling digs deeper and finds that Capt. Ryan did indeed show leadership and courage, but that her death resulted from another accident caused by the insubordination of one of the men (Lou Diamond Phillips), and covered up by the rest of the crew. Serling now knows that Walden deserves the medal.

**** Contains spoiler ***** In the end, Serling is vindicated when an audio tape of his tank company's battles shows that his quick thinking led to the identification and destruction of another unidentified tank which got into their formation. This time he brilliantly identified it as an Iraqi tank and fired, saving the rest of his tanks from the enemy.

This film shows that war is not glamorous, not all black and white, but shades of gray. This film has some of the best acting you will ever see -- the entire cast gave excellent performances. Cast against typecast, Meg Ryan came across as one tough soldier, a welcome change from all her "cute" roles.

**** Contains spoiler ***** The final scene in which Washington marches up to and salutes Ryan's grave shows Serling's courage, loyalty, and sacrifice without a single word. This is definitely a film worth seeing.
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Not a bad movie
Tet-527 November 1999
Courage under fire was an okay movie, the story was good enough to keep me interested. Denzel Washington was convincing in his role, I liked him much better here than in the last movie I saw him in: Fallen. The other actors were pretty good, too, especially Matt Damon (I hardly recognized him, he was so skinny!). But to say that Courage under fire was a GOOD movie would be too much. Except for the fact that the story was about a woman, there was nothing really special about it. My vote: 6 out of 10.
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Strong performances highlight a powerful film.
Brad K.13 February 1999
Courage Under Fire is a mainly post-Desert Storm war movie. Denzel Washington (Glory, He Got Game) has the lead role as a Colonel who is giving the assignment of reviewing a case for the first woman ever to win the Medal of Honor. Washington is in a poor emotional shape because of a deadly mistake he made in the same war. In order to review the case Washington interviews the other members of her team. While they tell their stories we see flashbacks of the battle and the differences in their stories are played out in the different flashbacks. Washington is excellent in the lead role. Meg Ryan (Sleepless in Seattle, City of Angels) is the woman up for the Medal of Honor. Because she died during the battle, Ryan is only seen in flashbacks. Ryan is solid in a total change of pace role for herself. Good support work is turned in by Michael Moriarty (TV's Law and Order, Shiloh) as Washington's commanding officer, and Scott Glenn (Backdraft, Firestorm) as a reporter who helps Washington. Before his big leading roles Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, Rounders) gives a great supporting performance as Ryan's best friend and medic on her team. But the performance of the movie belongs to Lou Diamond Phillips (The Big Hit, La Bamba) as another member of Ryan's team. Phillips gives a wonderful performance as the most emotionally conflicted member of her crew. Great movie, highly recommended.
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Solid war movie in the vein of "Rashomon"
BobbyT2410 August 2015
This is one of those war movies where you feel how difficult it is to be a soldier in the middle of a war zone with bravery, cowardice, confusion, orders, and emotional turmoil taking it's toll on the human psyche while yours and your fellow soldiers' lives are perilously hanging in the balance during the first Gulf War. Showing why he is such a classy military actor, Colonel Denzel Washington encapsulates the emotional baggage of being participant as commander of a tank battalion that pulled the trigger in a "friendly-fire" scenario that continues to haunt him when he gets stateside. The PTSD and media backlash has pushed him to near-alcoholism as he is reassigned to basically rubber-stamp the posthumous Medal of Honor intended for the first female to receive the award for heroics in wartime. What transpires, however, is anything but a slam-dunk for the war-worn commander.

There are two stories running simultaneously throughout the picture. The first - Denzel as commander of the tank battalion - is dark and understandably confusing. This lends itself to the realism and confusion of actual warfare where warriors are expected to determine friend vs. enemy at night while looking through infrared scopes while under intense fire. It is a daunting, and sometimes overwhelming, task to command.

The other story is of a heroic helicopter crew, led by Major Meg Ryan as the pilot, who goes down while trying to protect another downed chopper crew. Over the course of the next 24 hours, the heroes come to terms with who they are under intense enemy fire. What starts out as a clear-cut "give her the medal because the President and our government needs a female hero" turns into a genuine mystery as to whether the pilot truly deserves it or not.

There is very little difficulty separating the two stories. What becomes more complicated is how Denzel's character must overcome his own demons in order to objectively give America's most important wartime medal to a deserving/undeserving member of the service. Whether it would be the first female to be awarded this prestigious medal is irrelevant. It is right vs. wrong with a very important military mystery blocking Denzel's path to the easy path of just giving it to her.

This is a clever "did she/didn't she" narrative with sides changing their story at nearly every turn. Since there are so few witnesses under intense enemy fire, it's basically one soldier's word vs. another's - and who is telling the truth when one of them is dead. It also is the story of redemption for two very classy, honorable soldiers who deserve more from their country - and their other brothers in arms. Denzel has done this character before, which also makes him a perfect fit for the tortured commander who wants to do the right thing against the powers that be. Meg Ryan was surprisingly excellent at portraying a character who, through the stories changing multiple times, must be both heroic, cowardly, and still maintain dignity and honor in the face of overwhelming odds. It's fairly inspirational stuff.

This may not be the best war movie ever made. However, I believe it is definitely worth watching as a night's entertainment. I would place it on the same, well-done, stereotype-shattering heroic level as "Men of Honor". Well cast, well acted, and well done. 8 out of 10.
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Mistakes Were Made
gavin69428 June 2015
A United States Army officer (Denzel Washington), despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander (Meg Ryan)'s worthiness for the Medal of Honor.

Let's talk about casting for a moment. Bronson Pinchot is an interesting casting choice, though his role is small enough that it really does not matter. Michael Moriarty is interesting, too, if for no other reason than his strong conservative beliefs. How a conservative and a liberal view this movie could be very different...

Lastly, Lou Diamond Phillips is incredible. He is probably most associated with "La Bamba", but that is probably selling him short. Here he has a great emotional range, and when he comes into the story, everything gets kicked up a notch.
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A great film, despite...
juneebuggy22 October 2014
Pretty great movie with an enthralling storyline which is made even more interesting because each member of "the crew" has a different version of what actually happened. Excellent performances here from Lou Diamond Phillips and a painfully (painfully) emaciated Matt Damon.

Denzel Washington plays a Lt Colonel reviewing a female soldiers (Meg Ryan) candidacy for the medal of honor. Ultimately his quest reveals conflicting versions of the story from her crew.

I have to say Meg Ryan was terrible in this, just painful to watch as Capt. Walden. The battle scenes also felt kinda cheesy (special effects wise) but this was still a great film, despite its flaws. 05.13
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Prismatic Gulf War drama
Lejink21 December 2011
A strong contemporary war drama examining issues of loyalty, protocol, duty and ultimately truth in an unusually constructed film within a film, at the same using multiple viewpoints ( a la "Rashomon" or "Accident") to unfold the complicated truth at its heart. I'm not sure the somewhat contrived structure served the serious subject matter wholly convincingly, the cinematic devices detracting somewhat from the otherwise lifelike depiction of action in the Gulf War.

I also thought Denzel Washington's framing role as the senior army officer given the seemingly straightforward task of reporting on the apparently automatic eligibility of Meg Ryan's posthumous award of the Army medal of honour detracted from the central mystery, especially as he wrestles with his own demons after unwittingly being involved in a tragic friendly-fire incident of his own. So Denz fights the bottle and walks out on his family, before uncovering the truth about Ryan's death and the way back to his own redemption.

This final resolution and the underlying implication that the US Army welcomes openness is firstly too pat and improbable, especially in the wake of some real-life events that have come to light since then. All that said, the dramatisation of the war is very well realised and the acting is of a high order, Washington giving it strong and silent in a commanding lead role, but there are even better performances from a young Matt Damon and Lou Diamond-Phillips as two of Ryan's crew who survive the ordeal physically but not mentally.

Ryan does well too and I was also impressed by the actress in the menial task of playing Washington's wife. Yes, the film ends up as you'd expect, replete with Washington's last respectful visit to Ryan's grave, but there was enough intrigue and grit in the tale to keep me watching throughout. A braver take on the story, inverting some of the discovered truths here might have made for a better film though, but of course there's no way that viewpoint would have been green-lighted in Hollywood.
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chickskickass18 January 2004
I've read other comments about this movie, and I can't quite understand how they could have been made. All the actors were in fine shape, most notably Denzel, who had me in honest tears after his confession to the parents, Matt, whose incredible change from full-fleshed soldier to emanciated addict is a testament to his professionalism, and Meg, who, despite other people's ragging on her cutesy looks and reputation for girl-next-door-ness, I felt played her role very well. And she wasn't pretty the whole time.

The story didn't drag, even for an ADHD college student like myself. And how everything came together in the end was done well. Maybe I liked it because it appealed to the feminist thinker in me, with less attention paid to glory and action--though the multiple action scenes I thought were done very nicely--and more attention to the "consequences", as Matt Damon's character put it.

Anyway, I give this sucker a good 8 out of ten. I had myself a nice cry by the end of it, and thoroughly enjoyed my viewing experience.
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A hard look at the brutality and ambiguity of war
gws-21 June 2003
"Courage Under Fire" is a fine war picture so it's remarkably low 6.7 rating by IMDb voters surprised me. Denzel Washington as the tortured LCOL Nathaniel Sterling is, as usual, wonderful.

Following the first Gulf War, Sterling is assigned to "investigate" the death of a female helicopter pilot in combat, Captain Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan, so that the Defense Department can accede to the White House's wishes that Captain Walden be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor – the first female ever to receive the award. But it's not that simple. As Sterling interviews the survivors of Walden's crew it becomes clear that many of the details in their initial reports of the helicopter crash, Walden's death, and the rest of the crew's rescue were untrue. Matters are complicated by Sterling's own guilt feelings, and increasing problems with alcohol, over having accidently ordered the firing of a tank shell at one of his own tanks. Sterling's miscalculation resulted in the death of one of his close friends and subordinates. To make matters worse, the Army is determined to coverup the affair.

The retelling of these incidents from differing perspectives gives this movie a `Rashomon' like atmosphere. It is like watching an onion being peeled. As layer by layer is removed, the truth at last emerges. And it is an uncompromising – nearly cynical – truth at that.

My only quibble with `Courage Under Fire' is the casting of Meg Ryan as Captain Walden. Ryan is a fine actress, and proves it here with a solid performance. Nevertheless, this was Hollywood miscasting at its worst, done to give a star a star turn in a blockbuster movie – no matter how inappropriate she might be for the role. Ryan at her best is the charming, perky blonde honey from central casting. Watching Ryan on film, no one could forget that she was her high school's Prom Queen. Thus, more than the ordinary amount of suspension of disbelief is required to accept her as a slightly butch U.S. Army helicopter pilot. It's a shame really that Hollywood did this to Ryan, the movie and itself, because with a more appropriate actress in the Walden role, `Courage Under Fire' might have been a great film. I recommend it highly anyway, 8 out of 10.
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